March 24, 2020 / 5:23 PM / 7 days ago

REFILE-Bolivia speeds up its long goodbyes to keep down coronavirus

(Corrects slug to match TV, no changes to text)

By MonicaMachicao

LA PAZ, March 24 (Reuters) - “Visits are suspended until further notice,” says a sign on the gate to a Bolivian cemetery, the latest measure in the country’s battle to contain coronavirus.

It is a move that will cause further pain for a people used to wakes attended by large contingents of mourners that can stretch to several nights.

Instead, they will now be asked to conduct rapid farewell ceremonies and burials with limited numbers of people to comply with a total and mandatory quarantine ordered on Sunday by the country’s interim president, Jeanine Anez.

The Municipality of La Paz has limited burial hours and ceremonies are carried out without mass, a significant change in the majority Catholic South American nation.

In La Paz’s general cemetery, staff from a funeral company wear gas masks as they bear a coffin on their shoulders, followed by close family members who walk behind with flowers.

“They will not let me in to say goodbye to my friend,” Elisabet Quispe told Reuters Television as she watched from the gates. “This is a terrible time, living with the coronavirus disease, and this will make it unforgettable.”

“Please give me two minutes, please, I won’t be long, please,” another relative begged the cemetery staff, who did not let him in to pay his final respects.

Most people though, understand the need for the stricter rules.

“There has to be control because, otherwise, we are going to catch the (coronavirus). If we ignore it, they will just cremate us instead,” said Lucio Gutierrez, a relative of a deceased person.

Bolivia’s government has resorted to using armoured vehicles to patrol the neighbourhood of El Alto, an impoverished satellite city of La Paz and a stronghold of former president Evo Morales, to ensure residents adhere to the 14-day quarantine which has been in force since Sunday.

Bolivia has registered 28 confirmed cases so far of coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization. (Reporting by Momo Machicao, writing by Aislinn Laing Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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